My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
To say the last ten days have been weird is an understatement. Since the announcement of the suspension of public Masses on Monday, March 16th, life around here has been weird, strange, awkward at times, confusing, and sad. So much of what we do involves people, and well, they are not around.
The school is eerily empty, the majority of our parish staff is working from home except those deemed essential by the Archdiocese (I always think ALL our staff are essential but I get the need for such a determination), and it is just so strange around here. Even Fenway is wondering where everybody is. He is probably bored just hanging out with Father Federico and me.
The emptiness and quiet in fact causes in me a feeling of being uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong: a little quiet time in life is fine! We can actually all try to see these days as a retreat in the truest sense of the word, namely, a withdrawal to a quiet or secluded place. We can use this time to catch up with friends via the telephone or some sort of social media. We can reach out to family members we haven’t spoken with to check-in on them. We can use this time to do some spiritual reading! Dust off those Bibles, pick up the book we gave at Christmas Rediscover the Saints, or pick up that other book you have been procrastinating from reading.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I am sad and that I have a feeling of a sense of loss. Especially as the announcement was made this week that the Archdiocese has extended the cancellation of ALL Public Masses until April 30th! NO Masses for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, OR EASTER! If you were to tell me when I was ordained that we would one day close our churches for an extended period of time to fight a virus, I would have thought you were nuts. We never missed Mass growing up as a family, and I certainly could never have envisioned such a closure as being remotely possible, never mind necessary. Yet here we are!
Please know that while we cannot gather together in prayer in the church building, you can come by to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Saint Bridget Church building is, once again, for now open every day from 10AM until 12Noon. Thank you to all those who donated more disinfectant chemicals to enable us to remain open. Yes, these are limited hours but they need to be to ensure proper disinfecting of visited areas. PLEASE NOTE…you are asked to enter and exit through the South Entrance of the Church building and you are asked to remain in that Side Chapel at this time. IF you wish to light a candle before the Blessed Mother Statue PLEASE bring your own lighter! If you come, please be sure to remain socially distant from any other parishioners who may be there praying at the same time.
During this time it is our hope to remain “connected” with you. Father Federico and I are attempting to stay “connected” with our parishioners to the best of our abilities by using the media tools we have available to us. See page 6 & 7 for details.
Parish App…If you haven’t signed up for the Parish App yet please do so NOW! It is a phenomenal source of information for the life and activity of our parish family and it offers resources helping us to grow in our faith as well. We are using this as another way to reach out to our parishioners during this time and to share information as it becomes available. Details on how to get the App are on page 7.
The Saint Bridget of Sweden Parish Website…www.stbridgetcheshire.org. This is the main source of communication for our Parish Family! I am so grateful to our Office Staff who work so hard to keep the website up-to-date and a resource for our parish family. Victoria has made it easy for those not on Facebook to see our LIVE posts each day. Scroll to the bottom of the website homepage and click on the @stbridgetofswedenparish link which is just below the words “Live at 1PM Every Day.”
Zoom, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Skype, FreeConferenceUberConference, Facetime, and Facebook Live…a few weeks ago many of these resources were hardly a mention to the majority of us in our day-to-day life, and now we cannot go a day without them! Even the Archdiocese held a Zoom Meeting for all Pastors this past week. The faculty of St. Bridget School gather each morning via Zoom now (at first we used Google Meet) for morning prayer together before they head off to their “new classrooms” to begin their daily instruction of our students. It is amazing to see what is happening with the tools of today being utilized to best meet our daily needs to communicate and continue moving forward whether it is the parish, the school, or just to see friends!
One of my hopes these days is that during this time when we are not being able to come together to celebrate the Eucharist in our churches, a stronger desire, respect, and yearning will develop in our hearts for the gift of the Eucharist! One of my friends on Facetime Wednesday night said to me, “I need the Eucharist at least once a week like I need my coffee in the morning, like my medications, like water.” She went on to tell me how difficult this has been for her. It has only been one weekend since her diocese cancelled public Masses, like here, but she is yearning for the Lord. She also shared that she is joining us, as often as possible, for our 1PM LIVE posts but it is just not the same as receiving the Eucharist.
I suggested to her that while the Eucharist is the clearest place to encounter Jesus and receive His Body, it is not the only place. Open the Scriptures and encounter Jesus in His Word. A side note here…many Catholic publishers like Give Us This Day and Magnificat are providing free access to their materials during the duration of this crisis if you are interested. I also suggested to her that in this time, she is still in Lent too, and that her acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving will not go unknown. We then spoke about Matthew 25 and the great words of Jesus “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Then we discussed some ways she can fulfill this call in her area without leaving her home!
This Lent, we are being forced into a strange sort of fasting from the body of Christ in our assemblies and in the Eucharist. We might notice the hunger, the absence that comes from this fast, as my friend did, so as to appreciate it yet more deeply when, in Easter joy, we are able to receive the body of Christ in these ways again.
Fasting now may help us appreciate Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and in the assemblies that celebrate it more clearly after this too has passed. It may not happen on the “official” date of Easter, but the lesson of the rhythms of our church is that Easter joy and feast follows Lenten sacrifice and fast.
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Today Jesus confronts a terrible reality - death, the death of a friend named Lazarus. The prophet Isaiah says death is "the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations." (25:7) Do we fear death? I don't sense that most people do. I think C.S. Lewis got it right. He used this quote: "I am not so much afraid of death as ashamed of it." We feel a disgust for death. We can see that shame or repulsion in our response to the coronavirus. The people of our country and most nations are making extraordinary sacrifices to prevent the death of others. The repugnance for death has caused people to adopt an "abundance of caution". Otherwise, we are told, a person could be responsible for someone else's sickness and death.
Jesus himself felt strong emotions in the face of death. When he stood before the grave of his friend, Lazarus, he wept. When his own horrific death approached, he begged the Father to take that chalice from him. Jesus fought against death by curing people who suffered grave illness. The Gospels also record three instances of Jesus bringing the dead back to life. He did it as a sign of greater things to come.
First and foremost, Jesus wants to rescue us from spiritual death. Bishop Barron writes that each of us "to a degree, is spiritually dead. Maybe you're like Lazarus - four days in your tomb. Maybe you feel there is just no hope for the likes of you…I don't care how dead you are. The voice of Jesus can pull you out of the tomb."
Yes, Jesus wants to rescue us from spiritual death. But he wants something more. What finally matters is your relationship to him. As he tells Martha: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." Jesus tells us that true life, eternal life, is nothing more and nothing less than a personal relationship to him. Isn’t now a great time to strengthen that relationship?
As I said last week, I would be remiss if, as your Pastor, I didn’t remind you that we NEED YOUR HELP! I am talking about something no priest likes to bring up, especially in a time of facing a pandemic, but we need your financial support! What weighs heavy on my mind these days is how are we going to make ends meet if this time of closure is a longer than expected period of time? How can we pay the bills without the weekend collection?
There are still bills to be paid I assure you—lights, gas, payroll, insurance, etc.—so I beg every family to support your Parish Family during this time. Please see page 4 for ways you can give to your Parish. Thank you to the many who sent in their envelopes these past few days. Your generosity makes a real difference!
Please find in the pages of this bulletin activities, prayers, and suggestions for you and your family during this time of unrest. I have asked the Pastoral Staff to offer you materials to assist you in growing together in faith. I hope you find these resources helpful. In this time without the usual rush to places to be and things to do, read together, pray together, and grow together in faith, hope, and love!
FINALLY, PLEASE BE SURE TO PRAY! Utilize this time, as individuals and as families, to pray for an end to the spreading of Coronavirus.
As always, remember to pray for our parish family and ask God’s blessings upon us all in this time of pandemic. With the gracious intercession of Saint Bridget of Sweden, our Patroness, may we be united with one another in prayer!